The current legal situation around basing recruitment decisions on social media profiles is unclear. As a recruiter, I am never asked by clients to screen candidates’ posts. But I cannot guarantee they aren’t doing so themselves – the temptation to reach for a search engine before you rubber stamp a new hire is only natural.
When we hire our own employees directly, we connect with them on Facebook before they join. And we’ll habitually check if a CV tallies with a LinkedIn profile. That’s not unusual: the lines between social media, life and work have blurred considerably over the past few years. Most recruiters have incorporated elements of social media into their work as a sourcing and engagement tool. But what employers see on the likes of Instagram and Twitter can be seriously offputting: YouGov cites everything from offensive language and references to drug use to evidence of drunkenness and even poor grammar as reasons to turn candidates down.
The issue was brought home to me when I was asked to contribute to a recent Radio 1 investigation into the unexpected consequences of social media, and the lack of awareness among young people in particular about how employers might view what they regard as private communications.
Two students I spoke to for the programme were adamant their social media output was relatively anodyne. Yet the amount of personal information they shared was surprising, as was the fact they hadn’t even considered engaging privacy settings that would have kept them away from prying eyes.
One of the pair had joined a Facebook group dedicated to cheating in exams, something he said he couldn’t recall doing. The other had posted a scantily clad photo from a pole dancing class. This may seem frivolous, but as the show discovered, employers are unimpressed: one junior staff member recounted how she was fired for an Instagram post showing her performing a cartwheel in her company’s boardroom.
It’s possible to overstate the impact of social media on hiring decisions. In most cases, it’s being used simply to double check if they have a professional online persona as part of the risk management process all recruiters undertake. But it’s also clear that we need to be more open about such screening and potentially put guidelines in place about what is and isn’t acceptable.
In the meantime, there are a number of rules that are worth following in your own social media activity – whether or not you’re young and whether or not you are prone to oversharing. Firstly, go back and delete anything that could be seen as unacceptable. Put yourself in the shoes of a prospective employer and think about whether they could view it in a different light to the one you intended. Remember you can request Google removes any material you want to be forgotten.
Next, look at your privacy settings – a worthwhile exercise in any case, in the light of recent revelations about Facebook. From there, you can start to manage your social media accounts to better represent the personal brand you want employers to see. Comment, publish, share, like posts and join groups that position you as a good hire.
But remember too that as employers, social media works both ways. If we are looking at candidates, they are viewing us – whether to see if our posts chime with their values or whether our Glassdoor reviews match up to our recruitment material. When it comes to what we share online, we could all do with wising up.